Don’t forget why the Yankees’ season is still very much alive


ANAHEIM, Calif. — Even in the best of times, baseball is a nine-man sport that requires a 25-man roster that often demands contributions from 30 or 35 people across the vast tapestry of 162 games, plus the playoffs.

Even one of the most perfect baseball creations of all time, the ’98 Yankees, winners of 114 games in the regular season and 11 more in the playoffs, used no fewer than 32 different men to assemble that record, from the 152 games turned in by everyday stalwarts Paul O’Neill and Scott Brosius to the one game that Mike Figga logged behind the plate.

On every successful team there are guys watching at home or in street clothes in October who helped win a few games in May, a couple in June.

These Yankees, of course, take that to the extreme.

It isn’t just the vast numbers of Yankees who have logged time on the injured list, it’s the prominence of the names. Think of it this way: You could field a pretty competitive team exclusively of players who have spent or will spend at least two weeks on the IL:

1B: Greg Bird
2B: Troy Tulowitzki
3B: Didi Gregorius
3B: Miguel Andujar
OF: Clint Frazier
OF: Aaron Hicks
OF: Aaron Judge
DH: Giancarlo Stanton
C: Gary Sanchez
RHP: Luis Severino
LHP: CC Sabathia
RP: Dellin Betances

Those are guys who are all back or coming back at some point, and who are all going to get significant amounts of playing time. That’s 12 names right there. That means nearly half of the present roster not only will be long gone by August and September, it’s fair to say you’ll have forgotten many of their names.

And here’s the thing:

Absent those 12 names who will be absent if all starts to go well for the Yankees, there is no telling what kind of team the absent Yankees would be coming back to. It’s one thing to have a couple of players fill in for a week here and a week there, one thing to have Homer Bush and Shane Spencer and Ricky Ledee available for duty when duty calls … and something else entirely to have those players not only hold the fort but strengthen the fort.

The Yankees’ six-game winning streak came to a somewhat shocking halt Thursday night, the Angels paying the Yankees back a night after blowing a 5-0 lead of their own by erasing a 4-0 lead against Masahiro Tanaka and salvaging an 11-5 win in this series finale. It will leave a sour taste, especially because they wound up kicking the ball around a bunch once they gave up the lead.

“You’re always frustrated when you don’t put your best foot forward,” Yankees manager Aaron Boone said. “We didn’t take advantage when we had a chance to put the game. We have to learn from it, grow from it, get on the plane and get after it again.”

But there is likely to be a time when you look back on those six games and realize how crucial in the bigger picture of the Yankees season they really were. They went from two games under .500 to four games over, they sliced four games off the Rays’ lead in the AL East. They not only stood on the brakes at a time when the season could have gotten away from them, they went the other way.

All with a roster of irregulars making key contributions day after day, night after night, game after game. An index of fill-ins who, unless the injury bug lingers with the Yankees all year, will be forgotten footnotes by the dog days.

Now, there are some in the Yankees Twitterverse (and elsewhere) who can get carried away by the romance of all of this, because there is something enjoyable about watching a collection of kids and journeymen and knock-around guys figure it out together. And it has been fun. But Aaron Boone himself said it the other day: It’s winning that’s enjoyable. And when their vast pile of All-Stars returns, the winning will be just as fun, if far less surprising.

But they’ll look back — all of them — on this stretch, when the season could’ve gone off a cliff and instead it found a bridge between now and then, between the gamers of April and the game-breakers of August. Just try to remember their names.